The political economics of greenwashing.

Author:Cox, Stan
Position:Biodevastation - Company overview

Hard times are looming. And in their desperation to keep the American economy afloat, government and business will be tossing overboard any proposals for real environmental protection. No time for such romantic foolishness when there are investments to be protected. Get those tax refunds back into retailers' registers, quick!

Not that we won't be hearing about the environment; indeed, the next growth spurt, if it comes, is likely to be clothed in a green as green as the felt on a blackjack table.

In early 2008, entrepreneur Eric Janszen declared in Harper's magazine that the next bubble--alternative energy--had already been "branded." His projection: the eventual creation of $20 trillion in fictitious, speculative wealth, "money that inevitably will be employed to increase share prices rather than to deliver 'energy security,'" and that "when the bubble finally bursts, we will be left to mop up after yet another devastated industry." (1) After that next big bust, not only alternative energy but a host of other "green" industries will be left in ruin.

As long as an investing class is allowed to make all major environmental decisions, no new sources of energy will actually replace even one barrel or ton of fossil fuel; rather, they will go to further parasitizing the planet in the cause of growth. The boosters of "green" capitalism have never even bothered to argue otherwise in any effective way.

Typical is a book by Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston entitled Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, which became an immediate hit among "green" tycoons when it was published in 2006. It was a how-to manual for business people wanting to run the kinds of companies that, in the authors' phrase, "get ahead of the Green Wave," whose "environmental strategies provide added degrees of freedom to operate, profit, and grow."

These are some of the helpful tips to be found in Green to Gold;

* "Most successful green marketing starts with the traditional selling points--price, quality, or performance--and only then mentions environmental attributes. Almost always, green should not be the first button to push."

* "Eco-labels can provide legitimate environmental information to a demanding public. But they can also be used as a trade barrier, disadvantaging competitors in the marketplace."

* "Corporate strategy 101 tells us that a company can drive revenues by increasing price or volume. With green products, volume is a much safer route."

* "Partnering gives a company a strong defense against NGO [nongovernmental organization] attacks, but a large part of that defense is the demonstration of genuine progress. We call it brand inoculation [their bold] ... "

Green as tar

Right in the first chapter, Esty and Wilson rank companies they've designated as green "WaveRiders". Number One in their international ranking is petroleum giant BP. Their account of how BP reached the top of the green heap is little more than a description of a masterful public relations campaign. "Despite being in a business with large environmental impacts, the company is now seen as green," they write. "Here's the real proof: BP's brand value, as measured by experts in measuring intangibles, has jumped significantly."

But BP's primary mission is still to earn a profit by selling fossil fuels, so it was no big shock when...

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